Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Sunday, July 5, 2020
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My Robot Buddy 

<img style="float: left;" src="http://media2.hpcwire.com/dmr/R_and_Frank_cropped.jpg" alt="" width="95" height="72" />Robot & Frank is a new independent film starring Frank Langella as an aging ex-jewel thief in the near future who receives a robot butler from his son. Contrasting the human character’s deteriorating mental faculties with his increasing dependence on the robot as both servant and friend, Robot & Frank is both touching and oddly prescient.

Not so awfully long ago, you come upon a director on the set of a Hollywood movie and their neck would be festooned with lenses, rangefinders, color calibrators, filters, light meters and more. Making a movie is a lot more than point and shoot, and while the subtleties of shot composition and solidity of lighting may be lost on audiences, directors and cinematographers agonize about them. Until pretty recently that meant a lot of very expensive little telescope-looking things, one for each purpose, hung around your neck.

Nowadays plenty of directors and DOPs simply use their iPads – the $30 Artemis Viewfinder and $3 CinePro apps do most of the jobs all those other lenses used to. Stop to consider that the iPad itself is all of two years old, and one can’t help but sense we’re on the cusp of something… something significant in the way we use technology.

It’s one theme of Robot & Frank, a new independent film starring Frank Langella as an aging ex-jewel thief in the near future who receives a robot butler from his son. Contrasting the human character’s deteriorating mental faculties with his increasing dependence on the robot as both servant and friend, Robot & Frank is both touching and oddly prescient. While cinematic science fiction has predicted the future countless times and with varying degrees of success, something about Robot & Frank’s more gentle approach sets it apart. More than a movie about robot buddies and holo-phones, it’s about how we interact with our tools, and how we come to see them as much more than mere appliances.

This issue, particularly in robotics, is something we’ve discussed before in Digital Manufacturing Report, and will probably discuss again. After all, digital manufacturing itself is a reinvention of the way we work with the tools used to create our products. Robot & Frank almost effortlessly presents a world that’s not too far away: a world of robot companions and ever-more integrated technology as part of our daily lives. But unlike so many dystopian cautionary tales, Robot & Frank embraces the idea, reminding us that we’ve always integrated new technologies, ever since the very beginning. It’s just that now we’re finding that the technologies we’re integrating may soon be the recipients of our love as well as our use.

Robot & Frank arrives on the scene almost exactly 20 years after Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, which of course tells a very different tale of the interactions and relationships between humans and robots. One can imagine, almost, Blade Runner’s Rick Deckard – retired after a long life of blades and the running thereof, sick at last of hunting down and destroying rogue androids – settling back for his golden years with a friendlier robot buddy as his own companion.

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